How the introduction of LED displays is transforming the creative possibilities of virtual production for broadcasters.
While the film industry has quickly adopted these techniques, broadcast producers and studio technicians seem hesitant to embrace them.
Broadcasters mainly work in a live environment, where the workflow and risks are different and must be addressed. In the current landscape, the broadcast sector is at the crossroads of a promising yet sometimes daunting future characterized by long-awaited media convergence in a genuinely impactful manner.
In this article, we aim to shed light on the benefits of virtual production for live broadcast productions, explicitly focusing on LED screens and the advantages of working with a LED volume.
Understanding Virtual Production
Virtual production combines physical, such as a LED volume, and virtual elements, like AR objects, to create seamless, immersive environments. It enables real-time visualization, which is crucial for live broadcast ecosystems, allowing the director to see all options in the previz. Furthermore, it revolutionizes how presenters interact with their surroundings on stage, providing numerous advantages.
Virtual production enhances the presenter’s experience, as they can seamlessly interact with the content or AR elements in a natural way while on stage, improving storytelling and audience engagement. Virtual production enables quick changes to the virtual set design, providing presenters with versatile and customizable backgrounds that align with the delivered content.
Virtual production can also streamline the production workflow and make it more efficient. It enables production teams to make instant changes to the virtual environment, accelerating the turnaround time and allowing for quicker content delivery to the audience.
Virtual set design empowers production teams with endless possibilities, enabling them to create captivating, on-brand visuals that enhance their message.
Virtual production encourages creativity and innovation, allowing production teams to push boundaries and explore new ways of engaging with the audience through immersive technologies.
By embracing virtual production, live broadcasts can transcend traditional limitations and deliver captivating and dynamic content to audiences worldwide.
At the heart of broadcasting lies the art of captivating audiences through compelling storytelling. The strength of your stories is paramount to captivate and enthrall viewers. Utilizing dynamic display solutions becomes an essential technological aspect in elevating the viewer experience. By integrating visuals and interactive content, programs are infused with life, enabling stories to unfold in a truly immersive manner. Recent studies show that graphics are increasingly crucial in how people consume sports and news shows. Specifically, the younger generation feels more engaged with additional visual elements, which helps them understand the content better.
Today’s LED-based solutions are paving the way for exciting opportunities in live broadcast applications, revolutionizing how audiences engage with content. Broadcasters can create unforgettable moments that deeply resonate with their audiences, pushing the boundaries of what is possible in live broadcast entertainment.
The Power Of LED Screens In Virtual Production
LED screens are used as the backdrop to display dynamic and realistic backgrounds that enhance the visual appeal of live broadcasts. Designed as modular units, they offer endless flexibility in the design and setup of your studio. While the semi-circular LED volume is more suited for film, the ecosystem of a studio requires a different approach. Elements such as a primary screen, side screens, a desk, or a decorative element, such as a totem, are common elements in any studio environment, delivering engaging and versatile broadcast productions.
During live television broadcasts, time is of the essence, making avoiding delays and downtime a paramount concern.
Display solutions with stable and reliable performance are indispensable for live broadcast applications to ensure seamless operations. An uninterrupted functionality of the LED display is essential as it allows broadcasters to focus on delivering content without disruptions.
Before You Start
Next to impeccable performance, there are key considerations to investigate and discuss with your team before selecting the right LED setup for any studio. While most high-resolution LED panels provide sharp imagery and vibrant colors, specifications, such as pixel pitch, refresh rate, and color depth, must be carefully considered for each setup to deliver the required on-camera output.
Pixel pitch: The move towards finer pixel pitches in LED displays for broadcast environments reflects the industry’s pursuit of higher resolution and immersive experiences. While finer pixel pitches offer undeniable advantages in terms of visual clarity and detail, it is essential to assess the specific requirements of each broadcast scenario and strike a balance between the desired level of detail, practicality, viewing distance, content type, and budgetary considerations. By considering these factors, broadcasters can make informed decisions and select the most appropriate pixel pitch for their needs.
Viewing Angle: LED screens with a wide viewing angle ensure that the camera records accurate and consistent colors, matching the colors of the virtual set extension from various shooting positions.
Brightness and Contrast Ratio: These are crucial to maintaining image quality in well-lit studios, ensuring optimal visibility and clarity. High brightness ensures images remain vibrant and visible in high ambient light conditions, while a high contrast ratio preserves details and enhances the depth and richness of the displayed content.
Color accuracy and color gamut: Color accuracy refers to how accurately an LED screen reproduces colors compared to the source or reference. In broadcast productions, maintaining accurate color reproduction is crucial to ensure that the visuals presented to the audience align with the intended artistic vision. Precise color reproduction ensures that on-screen elements, including graphics, virtual sets, and talent appearances, appear natural and visually appealing. Color gamut refers to the range of colors that an LED screen can display, typically represented using color spaces such as RGB or DCI-P3. A wider color gamut expands the spectrum of colors that can be reproduced, resulting in more vibrant and lifelike visuals.
Bit depth, or color depth, describes the amount of information stored in each data pixel. As you increase bit depth, you also increase the number of colors represented, which is important if you want to achieve high color accuracy. In the case of an 8-bit image, each pixel has 8-bits of data per color (RGB), so for each color channel, the pixel has 28 = 256 possible variations. 10-bit would give 210 = 1024 colour variations and 12-bit 212 = 4096.
Genlock is the technique of synchronizing video signals from a signal generator or similar source to the other content resources. One of the most common Genlock applications is to synchronize cameras. Genlock syncs video signals or pixels to an external synchronization source while synchronizing the SDI output to an external source. The SDI refresh rate is determined with the help of a sync source.
A feature not often known is that a LED wall also can provide natural lighting integration. The ability to display virtual environments on LED screens allows for realistic lighting integration, ensuring that talent appears seamlessly integrated into the virtual set.
Refresh and scan rates are critical technical specifications when working with LED panels in broadcast productions. Refresh rate refers to how often an LED panel updates the displayed image per second, measured in Hertz (Hz). A higher refresh rate means the panel can update the image more frequently, resulting in smoother visuals with reduced motion blur. For (live) broadcast productions, a high refresh rate is crucial to maintain clarity, especially during fast-paced action sequences or camera movements. In contrast, a lower refresh rate can produce visible artifacts, such as ghosting or stuttering.
Scan rate, known as the scanning method, scan mux, or multiplexing, determines how an LED panel is addressed to display the image. One driver IC output pin drives multiple LEDs. This is done by completing the circuit for each LED one by one (multiplexing). During one refresh cycle, all the LEDs will light up once. Typical scan rates are 12:1 or 8:1. Where a lower scan rate will provide better results.
For broadcast productions, it’s essential to understand the significance of refresh and scan rates:
- Clarity and Detail: A high refresh rate ensures that fast-moving objects or camera pans appear smooth and detailed, enhancing the visual quality of live broadcasts.
- Reduction of Motion Blur: A higher refresh rate minimizes motion blur, allowing for crisp, sharp visuals during dynamic scenes or camera movements.
- Camera Compatibility: It is essential to consider the compatibility of the camera’s frame rate with the panel’s refresh rate to avoid any synchronization issues or artifacts.
- Seamless Integration: LED panels with appropriate refresh rates and scan methods ensure that the virtual elements seamlessly blend with the physical aspects, creating a cohesive and immersive visual experience.
- Enhanced Viewing Experience: By utilizing LED panels with optimal refresh rates and scan methods, broadcasters can deliver high-quality visuals to the audience, resulting in a more engaging and satisfying viewing experience.
Pain Points To Consider
Scan Lines: Virtual production workflows address scan line issues by utilizing high-resolution LED screens and advanced camera settings.
The color shift in a LED panel refers to the undesirable change in color accuracy and consistency that can occur when viewing the display from different angles. It deviates from the intended color reproduction, impacting the displayed content’s overall visual quality and fidelity. The larger your viewing angle, the more consistent the image quality will be.
Moiré in a LED panel refers to the unwanted interference pattern or shimmering effect that can occur when displaying certain patterns or textures on the screen. It is caused by the interaction between the LED panel’s pixel structure and the displayed pattern, resulting in an undesirable distortion or visual artefact. You can reduce the moiré effect by using a smaller pixel pitch.
Latency issues can disrupt the real-time interaction between the virtual and physical elements. The delay between camera movement or actor action and the corresponding visual response on the LED wall can create a noticeable lag, impacting the overall synchronization. This latency can affect the immersion and responsiveness of the virtual environment, requiring careful optimization and synchronization techniques for seamless integration.
ROE Visual is a key enabling technology partner with industry innovators like GhostFrame, helping to bring about a transformative shift in utilizing multi-camera setups within virtual production for broadcast.
“When we first thought of using Multicam on a live broadcast virtual production, we thought it would be impossible. GhostFrame technology was the secret sauce to making the live broadcast happen.” Zac Fileds – Senior VP Graphics Technology & Integration FOX Sports.
Testing, Genlock, and Syncing: Successful virtual production productions integrate workflows and hardware seamlessly, emphasizing thorough testing, genlock, and syncing processes.
Achieving exceptional results in your application goes beyond simply assembling an LED screen. The harmonious interplay between the LED panel, processing, and camera brings breathtaking outcomes. The dynamic game engine drives the pixels on the LED wall in real-time, necessitating ample capacity in the driver IC to ensure optimal performance. Consequently, selecting the right LED panel for your specific application is paramount. Engaging in upfront discussions with specialists is highly recommended, allowing them to understand your unique needs and requirements. This collaboration ensures you receive expert advice on choosing the ideal LED panel tailored to your application.
Overcoming Challenges & Embracing The Future
Education, testing, and ways to familiarize yourself with virtual production technology’s challenges and powerful possibilities are the best way forward. Many world-leading manufacturers involved in rolling out this technology, from media servers to camera tracking, to LED and LED processing, provide knowledge transfer through white papers, training, and demonstrations. Engage with technology providers and industry experts specializing in virtual production, and do not hesitate to seek guidance and support. Start small by gradually incorporating virtual production elements into your live broadcast production, experimenting with different setups, and refining your workflow.
The time is ripe for broadcast producers and studio technicians to embrace the incredible advantages of virtual production. Virtual production techniques, leveraging the power of LED screens and GhostFrame technology, hold immense potential for transforming live broadcast productions.
Broadcast producers and studio technicians can unlock new creative horizons and deliver visually stunning content by harnessing the power of LED screens.